We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics. The world’s press and radio are full of it. A lynching in a rural American community is not a challenge to that community’s conscience alone. The repercussions of such a crime are heard not only in the locality, or indeed only in our own nation. They echo from one end of the globe to the other.President Harry Truman’s 1947 Committee on Civil Rights (quoted by EJ Dionne, Jr.)
This was the state of America’s image abroad when Truman’s successor, President Eisenhower, created the United States Information Agency, in which my father, Robert C. Amerson, spent his Foreign Service career. Our Cold War foe, the Soviet Union, used images of racial turmoil in the US to court non-aligned nations. Indeed, the key civil rights legislation gained support in part because of foreign policy pressure.
The need to support civil rights as a way to strengthen the image of the U.S. all over the globe in the fight against communism was pivotal to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.Julian E. Zelizer, a Princeton historian and the author of ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now‘ (quoted by EJ Dionne, Jr.)
In his recent opinion column for The Washington Post, EJ Dionne,Jr. posits that advancing democracy abroad continues to require defending civil rights at home.
Imagine how democracy’s foes will use it against us that many of these provisions are tailored to make it harder for Black Americans to cast ballots.EJ Dionne,Jr, The Washington Post
In advance of President Biden’s first meeting with our European allies, his national security adviser spoke to reporters:
I would say the basic notion of democratic reform and voting rights in the United States is a national security issue. We are in a competition of models with autocracies, and we are trying to show the world that American democracy and democracy writ large can work.Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser (quoted by EJ Dionne, Jr.)
With President Biden in Europe to meet with allies in England and with Putin in Geneva, his new Attorney General, Merrick Garland, announced his intent to double the staff of the DOJ Civil Rights Division to challenge each and every new law limiting voting rights.
There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow. We will use all existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy.Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a June 11, 2021 speech to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice
[America] has unique window of opportunity as well as a historic responsibility to work with its natural partner, the European Union, and other like-minded countries, in defense of democracy, multilateralism and the rule of law. It will only have the credibility and influence to do that to the extent that it continues to defend those values at home.’Bobby McDonagh, one of Ireland’s top diplomats until he retired in 2018(quoted by EJ Dionne,Jr.)